Apple MacBook Review: Part 1

I never had a good reason to switch to a Mac.  Windows NT, 2000, XP, and Vista x64 had all served me well.  My systems were always hand-built with the best-of-class components. For almost a decade, the only motherboards I used were from Abit, Asus, DFI, Gigabyte, Intel, or Tyan. The only memory modules in my system were from Corsair, OCZ Technology, or Intel-supplied FB-DIMMs using Micron or Samsung modules. My preferred power supply manufacturers? Silverstone, PC Power&Cooling, and Corsair.

With these components, my home-built systems were rock-solid, running months at a time, requiring a reboot only after installing new video card drivers. Building my own PCs also meant robust overclocking capabilities. I had been a student of the black arts of overclocking during an era when changing the bus speed meant unsoldering a physical crystal on the motherboard. Socketed crystals were a revelation, and I couldn’t have imagined a world of BIOS-controlled clock generators and the granularity of tweaks available to us today.

I had also adopted robust security practices. My PC was double NAT’d with my ports closed down. I had purchased Vista Ultimate to run Vista x64 to minimize the risk of rootkit exploits and to ensure secure timely updates and patches. I kept my system updated, downloading hotfixes even before they showed up on Windows Update. I was using Symantec Anti-Virus Corporate Edition, relying on the best available data from av-comparatives.org to make my decision rather than hand-waving and conjecture. 

While Windows made up the bulk of my day-to-day use, I was still well-versed with alternative operating systems. I had dabbled with BeOS R4 in college and my academic research in medical school required software running IRIX 6.5. Between Windows, UNIX, and Linux, I never saw a need to add a Mac to my system.

Everything changed on October 8, 2008. To this day, I still don’t have all of the details. My computer had been on all day, but I had only been on the Internet for a few minutes, when I suddenly began receiving a flurry of emails to my account. They were all spam bounce-backs coming to my email. My first thought was that the reply-to headers were being spoofed or that the SPF filter was defective. I started checking the headers and my heart skipped a beat--the spam was truly coming from my system. In a move worthy of a Hollywood film, I rushed for the master power switch on the PSU and shut the whole thing down. 

Not yet willing to admit defeat, I pulled the hard drive from my desktop PC and brought it to a clean PC, hoping to identify the malware that had infected my system. Nothing showed up. I tried the Symantec Rapid Release updates and several other anti-malware suites. The system was reported as clean. October would be the month where Microsoft would patch several critical vulnerabilities and it would later become clear that I had been hit by a zero-day exploit.

For a PC user since 1985, starting with a PC clone powered by a NEC V20 CPU, this was the first time I had seriously been affected by malware.  What if the malware had reached into my address book and sent spam to my boss or co-workers?

I had three options, all of which would require considerable amounts of time. One was to reformat the HDD and start with a fresh install of Windows Vista. It’d be tried and true, but it was still going to take a lot of time to redo the whole thing. I could switch entirely to Linux. I had already switched from IRIX to Linux several years ago, so I was already comfortable managing and troubleshooting Linux systems. Unfortunately, I still needed a system capable of running the Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office. Open source alternatives to Adobe Creative Suite didn’t have the same quality or capabilities that I needed, while OpenOffice lacked the same multi-core computation capabilities that Excel offers for some of my more complex spreadsheets. The third option was to try switching to a Mac.

The timing couldn’t have been better; Apple was planning to update their notebook line the following week. I’d pick one of the notebooks up, give it an earnest go to see if a die-hard Windows and Linux user could switch to the Mac and document the whole thing. I’d play with the Mac for a month and then give the notebook away to my parents. When Core i7 desktop processors were available in greater quantities, I’d rebuild my Windows PC then.

I had no plans to switch from Windows to Macintosh permanently. All of my data had been stored on NTFS-formatted external drives and all my applications were for Windows. I was too careful, too savvy, and too poor to switch to a Mac.

It was only supposed to be an experiment. 

It was only supposed to be one month. 

But it happened anyway. I’ve switched to a Mac.